Case Study of Paid Book Review Mill

On the front page of yesterday's business section, the New York Times had a depressing story about paid book reviews, focusing on, a defunct service founded by Todd Rutherford. Beginning in 2010, the service wrote online book reviews at rates that included $99 for one, $499 for 20 and $999 for 50. For a time, he was taking in $28,000 a month, and "in its brief existence," wrote 4,531 reviews.

Rutherford paid, it seems, $15 a review. His most prolific reviewer earned $12,500 in several months. For a 50-word review she found, she said, "enough information on the Internet so that I didn't need to read anything, really." For a 300-word review, she spent "about 15 minutes reading the book." Early last year, Rutherford was forced to shut down, in large part because of one unhappy customer's many posts about it and because Google suspended Rutherford's advertising account because Google doesn't approve of ads for paid favorable reviews.

The problem of paid reviews has risen because in the digital age so many books are being sold online, where consumer reviews have become exceedingly important, and self-publishing has grown dramatically, leading authors to do anything--even pay for positive reviews--to get attention.

One of the biggest stories involved John Locke, best-known as the first self-published author to sell more than a million e-books through Amazon. While Locke downplayed the help he got by buying 300 reviews from the service, Todd Rutherford said that Locke did not give him proper credit.

Locke and others who pay for reviews may have benefited handsomely: Amazon reportedly does major online and e-mail marketing pushes for books that receive a certain amount of four- and five-star reviews, efforts that are greater than for some established authors. These programs have created bestselling authors, some of whom were then signed by traditional publishers. According to some in the business, Amazon has not been diligent about recognizing paid-for reviews.

Our favorite (five stars) line from the article:

"It used to take the same time to produce a book that it does to produce a baby. Now it takes about as long as boiling an egg."

Our review of the Times article (for free): a downer, but read it!

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